Sānsūr was born out of a shared vision to amplify the voices of women in Iran. Director Mostafa Heravi and producer Rieneke Van Santen wanted to put the spotlight on women, whom, amongst Iranian society, face the challenges of the sānsūr (censorship) at the highest degree.
As an artist in exile since 2000, the idea of the film grew naturally from conversations between Heravi and Van Santen, who began collaboration on the film in 2019, just one year before the global pandemic.
The creative documentary, which premiered on March 26th at the One World Film Festival in Prague, follows the accounts of 6 Iranian women who daringly speak out about their personal experiences living life as women in Iran.
The stories emerge from within Iran, through the voices of an artist based in Hormuz and a school teacher in Tehran and carry on in exile as Yasaman, a journalist forced to flee to Istanbul to flee persecution, settles into a life in exile.
“We wanted to add the story of how being exiled, the different phases of moving into exile affects them. There’s a chronological order to the story. We start inside, and it does feel a bit more closed, you have less freedom to film there…and you see the struggle of them still living in Iran and trying to find those openings in living with that censorship.”
Each woman heard in the film is in a different phase of their lives, but despite their distance from Iran, all 6 women struggle with the reverberations of the sānsūr.
“What we learnt throughout this process is that it’s the story of one woman. We’re filming 6 different stages but it’s really the story of every woman living with the censorship in Iran.”
From the beginning, the film met a number of production curbs, which included leveraging with the constraints of the pandemic, but in order to capture voices from within Iran itself, the team had its own encounters with censorship. In order to film the characters in Iran and Turkey, Heravi worked with local teams through remote direction. As a result of the precarious conditions, it took one year to obtain the footage from Iran needed to finish the film.
That’s when the woman, life, freedom that erupted from the government murder of Zhina Mahsa Amini began.
“When we started the movie it was in 2019, before the pandemic, it was quite different in situation. When we finished and Rieneke submitted the movie to the festival it was exactly the same week that the movement began.”
Since the completion of the film, women in Iran have been at the forefront of what has been widely recognized as Zhina’s revolution. The influx of images of women in Iran setting fire to the mandatory hijab in protest against the oppressive regime revealed a different Iran, or perhaps the same one, united through decades long of oppression.
“If we were still in production, we would have changed the film probably, it would have been a different film. When we were filming it was unimaginable that women weren’t wearing hijab in Iran. We had to film everything so carefully and also the way the women speak about these issues now, it was like….there was a different Iran.”
Heravi and Van Santen, who see the film now more relevant than ever, aim to continue sharing voices of women in Iran and to reach audiences there. The team will be running an impact campaign for the film which will include a number of special screenings for the film internationally and will be simultaneously broadcasted into Iran. The creative documentary will be also used as an opening for discussion within the human rights community and continue as a social media campaign with the support of the women in the film.
Vis-à-vis with woman, life, freedom, the documentary is a creative reflection of the sānsūr fought against by the women behind the movement.
“I think it goes into a different level when you look at something visually that just hits you in a way. I think with creativity, and something Iranians are especially good at doing, is finding openings. In activism, screaming the loudest doesn’t make you necessarily heard, so you need to find those unique ways of connecting with human beings. If you want to share your point of view on something and argue for something you need to connect and show we are like you. I think doing that through storytelling is just super effective.”
The completion and coinciding of the film with the movement was surreal for Heravi, who is still hopeful for a revolution. But despite the unimaginable timing, Heravi and Van Santen think that the film was, and is, as ready as it would ever be.
“At the same time we thought, this is a very important moment to bring the film out. Through the film you really understand the deeper effect on women and the connection with their hair, body, identity and themselves.”
The 95 minute creative documentary stars former cricket player for Iran’s national team, Soodeh Lashkari, actress Golshifteh Farahani, Yasaman Khaleghian, a journalist who broke the story of the Iranian regime’s involvement in the tragic flight PS752 and musician Kimia Ghorbani.
For more information on the film, visit the film’s Instagram page.